If we don't go all-in with our rapid transit plan, we're at serious risk of ending up with an underwhelming rapid transit system with minimal impact.
By Ryan McGreal
Published July 16, 2010
The 2009 consultant report on the east-west LRT line recommended converting Main Street and King Street to two-way traffic flows and putting LRT on King.
This past June, the City of Hamilton had a display on the Rapid Transit plan at an alternative transportation event held in Gore Park. RTH was concerned to discover that it looked as though the two-way conversion of Main Street had been dropped from the east-west LRT plan.
When my associate and I asked about it, the city representative told us the city wants to take a more "incremental" approach to the transition plan and that Main Street and Cannon Street are seen as "paired" contra-flow streets for through traffic.
This really concerned me. The whole point of building LRT is to foster a transformational change, and all the evidence I've seen is that to be successful, LRT needs to be coupled with comprehensive supporting changes to the related infrastructure and policies.
In particular, the street infrastructure within the transit corridor should be transit- and pedestrian-enabling, including two-way traffic flows, curbside parking, street trees, wide sidewalks, and so on.
Once again, it looked as though the city was preparing to compromise the goal of creating a dense, vibrant, transit-oriented downtown for the purpose of maximizing automotive traffic flows.
I contacted the city's rapid transit office looking for clarification, and Lisa Zinkewich provided a detailed response. She noted that the city has hired a new consultant, Steer Davies Gleave (SDG), to conduct the next phase of planning, design and engineering, which is still underway.
Zinkewich confirmed that SDG is taking a "complete streets approach" to the design, looking at traffic, transit, deliveries, parking, cycling, walking, right-of-way impacts, and urban design.
She confirmed that no decisions have yet been made. "At this stage," Zinkewich wrote, "everything is still on the table." She did caution, however, that "as you get into the detail design (the devil is in the details), other considerations become evident" that might impact what the city hopes to accomplish in the design.
She acknowledged that "there are benefits to two-way traffic on both Main and King Streets" but noted that staff have not yet presented options to Council. She also suggested, "there will also be phasing plans for implementation."
The issue of Main and Cannon as "paired" streets, identified as such in the Downtown Transportation Master Plan, still needs to be incorporated into the LRT plan, given the impacts on "overall movement throughout the city".
It was reassuring to learn that all options are still on the table, but my worry is that this city has a long history of compromising livability where it impacts traffic flow. Even the selection of King Street as the preferred LRT route reflects the city's studies showing less overall impact on traffic if the LRT goes on King.
A balanced transportation system does not prioritize automobile traffic over other modes. Progressive cities like Vancouver actually prioritize traffic modes in reverse: walking first, followed by cycling, followed by transit, and finally followed by driving.
In Hamilton, notwithstanding the excellent work the rapid transit team has been doing with respect to LRT, the prevailing mentality is still that driving is the normal mode and that other modes are "alternative".
If we don't go all-in with our rapid transit plan and commit fully to transit-oriented development on complete, two-way downtown streets, we're at serious risk of ending up with an underwhelming rapid transit system that has minimal impact on investment and land use flows around it.